Potential for tree rings to reveal spatial patterns of past drought variability across western Australia

O'Donnell, Alison J.; Cook, Edward R.; Palmer, Jonathan G.; Turney, Chris S. M.; Grierson, Pauline F.

Proxy records have provided major insights into the variability of past climates over long timescales. However, for much of the Southern Hemisphere, the ability to identify spatial patterns of past climatic variability is constrained by the sparse distribution of proxy records. This is particularly true for mainland Australia, where relatively few proxy records are located. Here, we (1) assess the potential to use existing proxy records in the Australasian region—starting with the only two multi-century tree-ring proxies from mainland Australia—to reveal spatial patterns of past hydroclimatic variability across the western third of the continent, and (2) identify strategic locations to target for the development of new proxy records. We show that the two existing tree-ring records allow robust reconstructions of past hydroclimatic variability over spatially broad areas (i.e. > 3° × 3°) in inland north- and south-western Australia. Our results reveal synchronous periods of drought and wet conditions between the inland northern and southern regions of western Australia as well as a generally anti-phase relationship with hydroclimate in eastern Australia over the last two centuries. The inclusion of 174 tree-ring proxy records from Tasmania, New Zealand and Indonesia and a coral record from Queensland did not improve the reconstruction potential over western Australia. However, our findings suggest that the addition of relatively few new proxy records from key locations in western Australia that currently have low reconstruction skill will enable the development of a comprehensive drought atlas for the region, and provide a critical link to the drought atlases of monsoonal Asia and eastern Australia and New Zealand.

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Also Published In

Environmental Research Letters

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Biology and Paleo Environment
Tree Ring Lab
Published Here
October 22, 2018